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Bucking The Palestinian Conference

Bucking The Palestinian Conference

Several Ohio Jewish organizations joined together this week to launch a pro-Israel campaign at Ohio State University a week before the start of a three-day national pro-Palestinian student conference.
A coalition including Chabad, OSU’s Hillel, the Columbus Jewish Federation, AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish National Fund was planning the Israel Activism on Campus campaign Tuesday featuring noted attorney Alan Dershowitz, author of the new book "The Case for Israel."
The campaign is a pre-emptive response to the third annual Palestine Solidarity Movement student conference, which was forced to move to OSU from Rutgers University last month because of a squabble between pro-Palestinian groups and apparent pressure from Rutgers officials and local Jewish organizations.
The Nov. 7-9 conference is being hosted by the Committee for Justice in Palestine, a registered student group at OSU, one of the largest campuses in the nation with more than 40,000 students.
Pro-Israel forces said the purpose of their campaign is to "educate, inform and inspire OSU students about Israel and its right as a democratic nation to exist."
It is similar to a campaign launched last month at Rutgers in anticipation of the national pro-Palestinian conference being held at the New Brunswick, N.J., campus.
"We are giving the students the necessary knowledge about Israel so they can make informed decisions about the safety and security of Israel and act as advocates on campus with the rest of the student body," said Rabbi Aryeh Kaltmann, executive director of Chabad at OSU.
He said that instead of planning counter-demonstrations next week, it was better for the Jewish community not to be reactive. Invoking the memory of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Kaltmann said, "We are telling our students that light pushes away darkness and we have to educate. That’s what a university is all about.
"We want all students to realize Israel is America’s strategic ally and represents the same values America does: democracy and freedom of expression."
The rabbi said a main feature of the campaign is to recruit and develop "student ambassadors" for Israel.
One such ambassador is OSU senior Benjamin Sapir, who said Jewish students (about 4,000 on campus) need to be educated.
"Last year there were a lot of pro-Palestinian demonstrations and a lot of Jews were too timid to ask questions, and didn’t understand what’s going on between Israel and the Palestinians," said the 21-year-old Ohio native.
His mission: to "educate students to support Israel and not be afraid to show Jewish pride for Israel."
Training will include meetings with personalities like Dershowitz, Israeli cabinet minister Natan Sharansky and conservative pundit Alan Keyes, Sapir said.
He said the mood was relatively quiet on campus in anticipation of the Palestinian student conference.
Amcha-the Coalition for Jewish Concerns, the advocacy group of New York Rabbi Avi Weiss, launched an on-line petition urging Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and OSU officials to stop the Palestinian conference, claiming the group promotes terrorism and violence. But state and university officials refused, saying it is a freedom-of-speech issue.
"The First Amendment protects the rights of groups to meet, and any attempt to deny access or control the content of meetings would be illegal," said William Hall, OSU’s vice president for student affairs.
"The university’s policy is to foster a spirit of free inquiry and timely discussion of ideas, as long as the views expressed are stated openly and are subject to critical evaluation," he said.
Nahla Saleh, a member of OSU’s Committee for Justice in Palestine, has publicly denied that the conference will be a forum for hate.
"We have absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism," she told Ohio reporters.
Saleh said the conference, offering educational workshops and advocacy training, will try to reignite an anti-Israel divestment campaign.

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